Scaramouche, there’s spoilers ahead.
When someone is making a biopic for such an iconic figure as Freddy Mercury, they have to walk a line between a chronicle of events and a tribute piece. I didn’t expect this film to be 100% accurate. I was hoping it would get some milestones moments depicted somewhere close to the mark, but I knew embellishment was going to be part of the game. You can’t avoid paying tribute to a legend. The music alone should be more than enough to give this movie a pass, and I almost do. There’s things that could’ve been done better, and should have.
Bryan Singer was the director for Bohemian Rhapsody up to December 2017, when he exited the project. Dexter Fletcher assumed directorial duties to finish the filming. Fortunately this didn’t affect the best the movie has going for it. And that, even before we talk about Rami Malek’s amazing transformation, is the music. Queen’s music is the real star here, and on music alone this film pays homage to the classic Queen sound in droves. There’s very little to criticize on this alone, to the point that you feel compelled to let everything else go. But some other aspects are important to note, and I don’t feel they should detract from the experience. We’re all human, we have flaws and we learn from them.
Rami Malek does become a version of Freddy Mercury who is human, imperfect, insecure but has an unmistakable stage presence. Actually, as outrageous as Rami’s interpretation of Freddy is when he takes the stage, you should probably watch the real deal. Freddy’s actual stage presence is even more outrageous and bigger than life than in the film. Rami’s interpretation comes close enough to evoke the memory of the lead singer, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish.
The film includes all the milestones that fans wanted to see. In that, he deserves praise, although more than a few are embellished and some are critically placed wrong in the timeline. I say critically because they’ve been used to paint a particularly nice picture about some people and a particularly nasty one about a couple of other people. Basically, you can tell who participated in the movie and who was left out and tarnished. The director (or perhaps I should say the editing) seems adamant about who is an ally and who an enemy, with rarely anybody being neutral or just passing by.
Of course the way that Brian May (Gwylim Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) meet is not quite accurate. Freddy had been in a couple of bands already and John Deacon was never part of Smile until they became Queen, but these details are not crucial to tell the story. Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) also figures prominently as Freddy’s once girlfriend and lifelong friend.
Aptly, there’s a chunk of the movie that is dedicated to the writing of the actual songs, which we can be thankful for since this is where the movie excels. It might be just movie magic and embellishment, but when the band gets together to compose their beloved classics, the audience is all in. We want to hear them, we want to love them and I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear people singing along. It would’ve taken one person to give in and we’d all be singing along (or perhaps that was just me, I will show myself out).
In all honesty, Freddy’s personal life was complicated. He did resist labeling himself in regards to his sexuality, and had both male and female lovers in his life. In the film, he comes out as bisexual although Mary insists he’s gay. That already sets some flags but it’s light compared to what happens next. The movie deliberately makes Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) out to be a villain, demonizing the gay lifestyle as pure excess and something that Freddy is dragged into while Mary and his band mates shake their heads disapprovingly. It’s not until he fires Paul and finds Jim Hutton than he gets their blessing in the film. In real life, Prenter sold him out by giving out personal information to the papers and Freddy fired him a year after Live Aid happened.
In the movie, the timeline is altered but it’s widely believed that Freddy was not diagnosed with AIDS until 1987, two years after the Live Aid concert (1985). He told his friends, family and band members back in 1989. The movie lines up this events so that Freddy can make peace with both the band, his family and in a stretch of imagination, start dating Jim Hutton the very day before the concert.
I can chalk all these to dramatic license, but in this day and age to still make a link between being gay as some self-destructive lifestyle is wrong, even when somehow the film does seem to approve of Freddy’s relationship with Jim Hutton. Curiously enough, the band never really broke apart. Live Aid was not a reunion performance. They had been on tour and promoting another album. All that being said, this is just dramatic license again. In one scene, Brian does tell Freddy he can be “kind of a prick sometimes.” I might be wrong here, but I sense this interlude is meant to represent a long series of disagreements between the lead singer and the lead guitar player.
Recommended with reservations. The movie falls more on the side of being a tribute to the legend of Queen than historical accuracy, and that’s fine. The part in which they feel they need to demonize everything about one character is a low point. It shouldn’t have included homosexuality as part of the “bad” lifestyle. And yet, the movie does shine so well in performance and music with even some humour thrown in sparsely. In the end, there’s at least some portrayal of Freddy’s life and some aspects about the songwriting process that will be very entertaining to fans. So, reservations and all, I know Queen fans will need to see this one. The show must go on.
That will do for now.